Haven’t had much time to post lately as I’ve thrown small dinner parties the last two Saturdays. I LOVE menu planning but spend way too much time on it. I have to pull out all my food magazines from the past 3 months for inspiration, jot down references to interesting recipes in my notebook, then there is usually some kind of color coding process to make sense of it all. Then I usually end up picking one or two that I’ve found (usually appetizers) and coming up with the rest on my own. After that I will go on Epicurious to find the best recipe for each dish, to use as the basis for my own take on it. Then of course there is the shopping list (categorized because must get produce at one place, groceries at another, meat and specialty items at another, wine at another) and all the requisite running around to get everything. And right now, running around Ann Arbor takes more time than usual as everyone else in town is out doing the same thing! So my dinner parties (along with shopping and other holiday-related activities) have been taking up a lot of time lately.
In any event, let me tell you about the one I did a week ago. It was a farewell dinner for 6 in honor of our friend Leif, a top-notch science writer who landed a sweet (and well-deserved) job at Duke, and so will be moving to North Carolina at the end of this month. We started out with champagne (as we do for all our dinners with the Bates), accompanied by bruschetta with white beans and prosciutto, and a crabmeat crostini, which is topped with a grated dry jack cheese. I know it sounds a little tuna-melty, but it is nothing like that! I made the crostini for Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit, so Lenny insisted I do a repeat performance. The key is to purchase good quality crabmeat. I got mine at Whole Foods, and though it cost $10.99 a pound, it was the most delicious crabmeat I’ve ever tasted (I’ll have to look up the brand and post a comment – also Lenny told me he saw the same kind at Busch’s for only $8.99).
I then served a broccoli and leek soup with a sour cream lemon garnish, but I was a little flustered with getting the next course out so we didn’t sit for this one – everyone just stood around with their ramekins of soup and watched me cook. Well, really they were all into the wine at this point, and unfortunately I was too busy to write down the different bottles that came out – mostly interesting reds that Leif and Anuj brought.
For the main course I served beef tenderloin. You can get your USDA Choice tenderloin at Whole Foods for $24.99 a pound (eeks!), or, you can go to Hillers and get your non-USDA Choice (but tasted amazing to me) tenderloin for $6.99 (yeah!) a pound (and currently they are on sale for $5.99 a pound, through the holidays). Now, my mother makes beef tenderloins for Christmas almost every year, but as I thought about it I realized I have never actually made one myself, nor have I paid close attention to how she does it. So I get the monster home and realize it is not trimmed or anything, and it is all misshapen and has this weird tail on it. Luckily I found this great article that was written by the former director of instruction at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC (where I have taken several classes). After a thorough read I knew how to attack the beast. I started by cutting the sucker in half for easier handling and trimming away the fat and all the silverskin. Then I had to do some more cutting and tucking so I had two pieces of similar size and shape, which I tied at about one inch intervals. I don’t have a phot0 (bad Lenny!) but I must say in the end these babies were beautiful. I basically followed the advice in the article for cooking them – salt well and brown them in the roasting pan on the stovetop, then remove and coat them generously with a mixture of grainy mustard and herbs and roast until they reach 120 degrees, then let them rest before slicing and serving. They turned out beautifully and (sadly) there were no leftovers!
Along with the tenderloins I served a potato gratin (“The ‘Upper Crust’ Potato Gratin” a/k/a “Le Gratin des Gratins”) from Joel Robuchon’s cookbook “Simply French,” and oven roasted green beans with garlic.
For dessert I made a bittersweet chocolate mousse, which I thought would be simple but I must have been flustered Saturday morning, because first I didn’t measure the heavy cream correctly so I cooked it and then realized I had to start over; then I burnt the really expensive Scharfenberger chocolate so had to do that all over. Luckily I had just enough in my pantry to re-do it without going to the store (next time I will buy my chocolate at By The Pound – I saw the other day they had Callebaut for $5.99 a pound). In the end it all turned out fine, but I had to skip spinning class that morning because I basically made this recipe twice. In the end it was worth it – the mousse was dark and rich and went perfectly with the dessert wine , a 10-year old from the Southeast of France. I had read an article about dessert wines that said either a Banyuls, or a certain type Madeira, goes great with dark chocolate. So I sent Lenny to Big Ten, along with the article as reference. They didn’t have Banyuls, but advised that Maury is very close to where Banyuls comes from in Languedoc-Roussillon (good enough!). It was not too sweet and a little like a tawny port, and a lovely finish to a pretty damn good meal (if I do say so myself!).